Acute starvation of the wild-type of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans depresses the level of cathepsin D by 65% within 4-8 h and the level of the thiol cathepsins Ce1 and Ce2 to about the same extent after 24 h. There is no parallel loss of lysosomal beta-glucosidase or beta-hexosaminidase activities. In strains which are chronically starved as a result of mutations which compromise feeding behaviour (unc-52) or nutrient uptake into the intestinal cells (daf-4), cathepsin D levels are decreased to about 15% of the level in fully fed wild-type animals. We suggest that the decline in the cathepsin D level results from autodigestion when alternative protein substrates are depleted in the lysosomes.

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